Universal, Fox close to Halo movie deal

<i>Variety</i> reports the two studios want to jointly shoulder burden of bringing the Master Chief to the big screen, but some sticking points remain.


Apparently the movie moguls at Universal Pictures are closet gamers. With one major game adaptation in postproduction--Doom, which is due out later this year--the venerable film studio has signed on to bring an even more popular shooter to the silver screen.

Today's Variety (subscription required) is reporting that Universal has partnered with 20th Century Fox to cofinance the film version of the biggest Xbox franchise of all time, Halo. Sources told the Hollywood trade that the two companies are in final negotiations to buy the Halo movie rights from Microsoft, which had couriers--dressed as the Master Chief--make the rounds at all the major studios earlier this week. They carried a Bungie Studios-approved script from 28 Days Later screenwriter Alex Garland.

While Halo's huge fan base--the series has sold nearly 13 million copies--would normally be catnip to Hollywood executives, Microsoft reportedly put forth conditions that put off many studios. According to reports in several media outlets, including a detailed account in today's New York Times (registration required), Microsoft demanded $10 million against 15 percent of the box-office gross. This in addition to a minimum $75 million "below the line" budget, meaning the studio would have to invest that much money before hiring any actors or a director, usually a film's biggest expenses. Also, all studios shown the script had just 24 hours to respond "yes" or "no," since Microsoft wanted the movie fast-tracked into production.

According to Variety, Microsoft's tall order caused almost all major studios to pass on the project. By Tuesday, DreamWorks, New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and Buena Vista Entertainment, Disney's parent company, had dropped out faster than an ODST. With virtually all of the competition gone, the two remaining heavy hitters--Fox and Universal--decided to use their leverage for more favorable terms.

According to the Times, Microsoft's representatives at Creative Artists Agency--current employer of former Xbox cocreator and game-industry enfant terrible Seamus Blackley--hammered out a deal on Wednesday afternoon that had Fox and Universal offer Microsoft $5 million against 10 percent of the gross. The agreement would see Universal distribute the Halo movie domestically, while Fox would handle foreign distribution.

But while Universal and Fox's offer is now the only game in town, Microsoft is still unsure if it wants to play ball. Variety and the Times say the agreement is held up on two fronts. First, the two studios requested that Microsoft relinquish its demands and that the Halo movie strictly follow a Bungie-penned "bible," which would ensure that it would not deviate from the Halo mythos or conflict with "sequels" to the game (i.e. Halo 3). The second reported sticking point was Microsoft's insistence that principal shooting begin as soon as possible, possibly as early as this fall. According to Variety, Universal and Fox will only "promise simply to get the pic into theaters by 2007 at the latest."

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